Pasta is almost a universal comfort food. Whether it’s won tons floating in miso soup, a plate full of spaghetti, or a bowl of good old mac ‘n cheese, there’s something truly heartwarming about a pile of noodles being set in front of you. And, there’s something equally gratifying in being the one setting down the plate and seeing the smiles grow.
One of the more elegant, yet easiest, presentations for pasta is a simple carbonara. In fact, the most time consuming part of the recipe is waiting for the water to boil! One of my favorite parts is the lack of a sauce - at least in the traditional sense. As noted in my previous post, there’s three basic ways to make/thicken a sauce. This one uses none of them. Instead, we’re using eggs to stiffen and become the sauce. With that in mind, keep an eye on the timing and the order the ingredients get added on this one! What you add and when you add it is a bit more finicky here.
This is also a perfect opportunity for cast iron to really shine. Cast iron’s natural ability to work well at low temperatures, as well as its ability to retain and throw heat make it a natural choice for this recipe. For 2 people, I like working with a 10” cast iron skillet.
Another note. Traditional carbonara uses only egg whites, while you’ll notice I use the whole egg. No, it isn’t by the book. But it’s yummy this way, and I prefer the more golden color the dish takes on when it’s done. Truth be told, I just have a really hard time throwing away a perfectly good egg yolk. If you want a more traditional approach, just use two egg whites rather than one whole egg but, realize that now you’re wasting TWO perfectly good egg yolks! *GASP*
Final notes/ideas on how to play with your food.
As always, please use my recipe as a jumping off point for your own creative adventure and not as the final result! Popular additions include grilled chicken breast, ham, broccoli, asparagus, shredded carrots, and whatever else happens to be sitting still in the fridge. A word of caution, though... don’t add peas. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because peas are nasty green balls of evil doom that no sane person should ever be forced to ingest. All I’m saying is DON’T give peas a chance.
Happy Cooking, Everyone!
Farm Boy Carbonara
- 1 inch diameter pasta Angel hair, thin spaghetti, regular spaghetti. Whatever you've got.
- 1 large egg
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon The more fat the better. I like pepper or hickory. The apple bacon tends to be too sweet for my taste.
- 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese Please don’t use the powdery, shelf-stable sawdust in the green shaker container. Please?
- salt and pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot with water, add about 2 teaspons of salt, and bring to a boil. I also drizzle a bit of olive oil over the surface. Some folks say this is done to keep the pasta from sticking together. It doesn’t help for that, the oil never makes contact with the cooked pasta (oil floats). But In my experience, I’ve never had the pot boil over when there’s oil added. Do as you will.
- Once the water is boiling, add your pasta and bring back to a boil. Turn off the burner, and cover.
- While waiting on the water forever… Cut bacon into ¼” sections.
- Cook on a low heat until done in a cast iron skillet. We’re looking to render out as much of the fat as possible, so keep it on Barry White (low and slow) while the water is boiling. When beginning to crisp, shut off the heat. DO NOT DRAIN! We need those drippings!
- Once the bacon is cooked, check on the pasta. With a fork, get ahold of of one of the noodles and give it a taste. You’re looking for a firm, cooked texture. Cook it too long, and you’ve got mush. Not long enough, and you’re breaking teeth. Aim for something in the middle.
- With the pasta done to your liking turn the heat back on under your skillet with the bacon. Pull the pasta from the water, and add it to the warm bacony goodness. Don’t drain the pasta first, just pull it from the water. We’re gonna want some of that water, too!
- Toss the pasta and bacon together, and listen for the last of the water to cook off a bit. The sizzling sound will change to a deeper tone as it evaporates. Add a bit (maybe as much as a ½ cup) more of the pasta water, and your parmesan cheese. Keep tossing and mixing until the cheese starts to melt. Remove from the heat, and add your egg. Yup, you read that right. We’re using the carry over heat from the cooking to cook the egg. If you keep the heat on, you’ll end up with a bizarre italian stir fry kind of thing - not nearly as pretty as what we’re shooting for here.
- This is where the magic happens. In very short order, a creamy, rich sauce will envelop the pasta and the bacon. Plate it off with a bit of fresh cracked pepper and maybe some chopped parsley if you’re feeling fancy.